Interview: ROCANROL '68 Director Gonzalo Benavente Takes A Trip Back To The 60s
True story: back in the 1960s, a Peruvian band called Los Mads were playing a gig that, through sheer chance, had Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the crowd. The Stones were so impressed with the band, they offered to bring them back to London to play a concert. That's just one of the many legends that sprung from the rock and roll scene in the capital city of Lima, one where local bands like Los Saicos, Los Yorks, and the aforementioned Mad's were household names and had every teen tapping their feet.
This was right in the midst of hippie culture and the "flower power" movement, a vibrant, fun time which was cut short when the decade ended and the country found itself under the military regime of Juan Velasco.
Rocanrol '68 captures those carefree times through the coming-of-age story of aspiring filmmaker Manolo and his two friends, ladies man Bobby and rock and roll nut Guille, spending a summer in the neighborhood of La Punta, meeting girls and having fun. It's the debut film for Gonzalo Benavente, who intended this as both a tribute to Peruvian rock bands and a fun teen movie filled with experiences anyone can relate to.
Benavente came to films after working in Television and Theatre; among his credits is A Night With Groucho Marx, a tribute to great comedians of the silver screen, like Charles Chaplin and Woody Allen. Here, the 30 year-old filmmaker speaks about the making of the film, the music behind it, and the challenges in recreating a time period when he wasn't even alive.
Twitch: ROCANROL '68 is your first movie. Why did you choose it? What was your inspiration?
Gonzalo Benavente: I don't know really, it just happened. You always have a lot of ideas in your head, but this one came naturally since it mixed so many things. I wanted to do a story about adolescence and adolescent rites, the first beers with your friends, your first crush, your first time at a concert. I was deep into researching the first Peruvian rock scene from the time and I also discovered La Punta as a location. There were many things that came together and the movie was built around them.
You shot a story set in the 60s, a time when you obviously weren't around. How did you step up to the challenge of filming in the past? Was there some preparation involved?
Researching more than necessary helped, because that's what we needed. I'm not saying that just by watching my movie you'll understand completely all the social, political and cultural changes of the time, since it's a very specific viewpoint, but in order to make it we had to research everything that happened in Peru from the late 50s all the way up to the early 70s. We worked hard on that, but in the end, what happens to the characters is the same for teenagers at any time, regardless of when one grew up. It's things you live through, the bond with your friends, your first romance, good or bad, that sort of thing. I think it's easy to connect to that, even if you weren't around in the 60s. We worked on this closely with the actors as well. I think it was a time that gave a boost to the characters. A lot of things happened in '68; that idealistic viewpoint of the last months of democracy in Peru was a plus to the story.
The movie is set in La Punta in the 60s. It's closely related to the politics and social changes of the time, but like you said, it's a pretty universal story. Do you think this movie can work with foreign audiences, despite being hugely indebted to Peruvian history?
Yeah, I think these experiences can happen in any language. The setting is part of the context, but what happens is common to any culture. There's a lot of pop references to bands, movies, things that aren't necessarily Peruvian. You hear Peruvian rock music, the concerts the characters attend are of Peruvian bands, but the experience of going to a concert you're not allowed to go to with your friends for the first time is not just common to Peru, it can be understood anywhere. It's also a very Peruvian film, as much as it is a genre film with references to foreign films. It's very local in some of the things that happened and in much of the jokes. We tried to strike a balance, have it feel like it was made here, showing what was going on at the time, but not make it hard to understand in other countries.
Did you have a set reference when making the film, any movie or director in particular?
Lots! We played around with the premise of our main character dreaming of making movies. We're learning to make movies as well, this is the first movie made by a large part of the team. That led us to playing around in every scene, recreating certain movies. There are some very specific references, to people like Godard or Tarantino. There are directors from the 60s, but also ones that had an impact on us when we were young. We patterned scenes after album covers; some, like the Beatles one (Abbey Road), are obvious, others, not so much.
The music plays a big role here. How important was it for you to include this musical background?
That was one of our goals, to show the first rock scene in Peru made up of very important, unknown bands. Some people are familiar with them, but a large part of the general public doesn't know much about the Saicos, the York's, etc. We wanted more people to discover this music, which in my mind was really valuable. It was one of the biggest scenes in Latin America at the time. Some scenes in the script were defined by a song: the moment scored to (Los Saicos song) Demolición is very specific, as well as the Yorks concert... part of it was bringing that music back, we had a whole issue with the rights so we couldn't have all the songs we would have liked. We caught a break by working with a band called Paracutá, who came up with original songs, 12 in total. They composed specifically for each scene, with the mood we wanted and the lyrics complementing what the characters are saying, whether they're in Spanish or English. It's great when you watch the movie and you can't tell which songs are new and which ones are old. Some are really well known, but the new ones fit right in with the rest of the soundtrack.
What's your opinion on current Peruvian cinema?
I think it's good that it's diversifying so much. This year, audiences are giving local films a chance, which hasn't happened in a long while. It's a huge responsibility for the ones who make movies, or try to make them, strengthen the relationship between the people and their movies. It's a huge honor to have someone pay 15 or 20 soles to go see your movie over the weekend. It's our duty to entertain the audience, and surprise them with a quality product, comedy or otherwise; the idea is that every new movie raises the bar a little. We can't speak of an industry yet, and we probably won't for the next few years, but we're all working towards the same goal.
Rocanrol '68 premiered in theaters in Lima on October 31st. After five weeks of release, it's grossed approximately $300,000 according to Box Office Mojo; a pretty respectable figure for a national film, especially when up against blockbusters like Thor: The Dark World and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Currently, the film is making the rounds in other cities in Peru.